I read everyday. I read because I have to and because I love it. As a child, I remember sitting down in the formal dining room with my father on a regular basis. The mission was to complete the latest reading or math supplement that he purchased. To this day, I am most productive sitting at a dining table to get my work done.
Sitting at that table, I often enjoyed reading Richard Scarry’s volume of stories about the animals in Busy Town. My father would begin reading the page, and I would listen. Then I would have to reread for fluency and understanding. If I stumbled over a word, my dad would repeat it. Then I would repeat it. If I continued to stumble, he would write a symbol to indicate the troubled word. Everyday at that dining table, for more than ten years of my life, my father sat with me to read and study.
As a child, I never made the connection that my father’s enrichment supplements were the reason for my academic successes. I excelled in every subject, except Physical Education. I often received certificates for academic achievement, honor roll, and other accolades. Not until I had my own children did I realize that my father’s incessant reminders to study or to come to the dining table and read were the makings of a childhood strengthened through literacy.
There is no statement more profound and absolute than the phrase ‘reading is fundamental.’ Reading serves as an essential part of and a foundation for active participation and advancement in the learning process. It also serves as the cornerstone for academic and professional successes. It provides mental stimulation, builds vocabulary, fosters imaginative and critical thinking, and develops writing skills. Without these abilities it can be challenging to navigate the simplest tasks in life. If reading is integral to learning, why is there a downturn in literacy among American students?
A recent Time magazine article highlighted the shift in reading outcomes over the years. From 1984 to 2014, the percentage of adolescents who never read almost tripled from below 10 percent to more than 20 percent. The distinctions are delineated by parental involvement, race, gender, and age. The results are not too alarming. But the percentage deviation between primary and adolescent readers is important to understand why this is occurring.
The causes vary and the solutions are specific to each child’s learning style. Regardless of race or gender, adolescent performance tends to decline due to pubescent hormonal shifts. Some obvious reasons for the decline are due to the advances in technology. Parents and educators are forced to compete with apps, games, texting, and other forms of electronic engagement.
In some respects, technology is good. It offers fun alternatives to learning and reading for students, especially tactile learners. On the other hand, the constant shift in images and quick interactions, lead to shorter attention spans causing an inability to focus in traditional academic settings. It is no wonder that most states are adopting testing procedures that are computer based.
As a former English and Language Arts teacher, I believe that old-fashioned reading is still a necessity. The device you read from depends upon your preference. Some parents read from books, newspapers, or touch tablets. While others opt for books on tape. All of these methods are fine. Just do it.
As a parent who loves reading, I will say that no child should be forced into a practice. Introducing reading habits starts with modeling those habits. When I was younger, I hated reading books independently. It felt like a complete waste of time. But I often watched my parents reading books and newspapers and at some point it stuck. So, when my kids have spare time, I suggest a book or reading from their electronic devices, however I don’t force it. They watch me read often and will build a love over time. If not, I am still assured that reading will be a fundamental aspect of their lives.
Hanifa L. Barnes is a writer, editor, and blogger dedicated to chronicling the issues that illuminate the voices and challenges of motherhood. She is a lawyer and former educator who believes that there is no work-life balance. Mothers should embrace the chaos. She blogs at Mommy2go.com and rants on Twitter @mommytwogo.